A very short one, and spoiler free. Written about half an hour after the the episode finished.
Once in a very, very long time do you get to see something really incredible – and this was one of those rare occasions.
Anyone who has seen Inside Number 9 will know Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have done some pretty incredible things: playing with genre, with time, and with expectations, as well as just writing pretty incredible comedy/ dramas – often blurring the two in the same episode: “Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room” remains one of the finest half hours of TV drama I’ve ever seen.
The idea of a live ‘Halloween’ episode promised something special and it certainly delivered. What made it genius (an utterly overused word, but on this occasion, I believe correctly used) was the playing with the ‘live’ premise on multiple levels. Yes, there was always the worry that anything could go wrong – Shearsmith and Pemberton are seasoned professionals both on tape and live – I recently had the good fortune to see them on the League of Gentlemen live tour so knew there wasn’t too much danger of them freezing or fluffing lines. But there’s always the technical dangers.
However, what they did in this episode turned all that, and much more, on its’ head the genius was putting the challenge of the ‘live’ onto the audience as much as it did on the performers.
It’s fair to say that ‘if you weren’t there, you can’t know’ – the episode is going to get a whole lot of discussion going, and will undoubtedly be watched by many more on iPlayer than saw it live – even some who started to watch it live…and it will be great – I’ll be watching it again and soon – Twitter is on fire already with people pointing out things I didn’t catch…but…it was a one-time only deal in terms of getting full appreciation of the program. They didn’t just walk a tightrope in terms of performing the episode live, they walked that rope in whether people would stay with them, and clearly from looking at Twitter posts, many didn’t. But Shearsmith and Pemberton didn’t care – it was important for them to do that without a net, and for those who carried on watching, the reward was immense.
Is any of this making sense? If you didn’t see the show, probably not – but to say anymore would be to spoil the surprise.
It was a piece of television that reminded me of a live boxing match. Sounds weird? Well – the build up; the promises (The interview before hand where they stated “We want to honour the tradition of the likes of Play for Today” – which they did a great job keeping a straight face when they said this – tonight was about as far from Play for Today as you could get utilizing every technical trick in the book), and the expectations – the sitting on the edge of the seat genuinely not knowing what could happen and, the risk that what you end up with is a damp squib. And so it seemed as the episode started…but like the tragic but undeniably epic Nigel Benn vs. Gerald McClellan WBC super middleweight championship so many years ago, I sat in dismay as the first round looked as if it was all over before things had even begun, before an incredible turn around…I felt like that watching this episode tonight.
Watch it on iPlayer – I’ll certainly be watching it again, the painstaking level of detail and craft will work on many a level, and like the Sixth Sense (another case where I ‘guessed’ just before most others, but long enough after I really should have done), will bear out interesting second opinions, but try, at the very least, try to imagine what it was like watching it live when you do. You won’t be able to, but try.
And for those that were lucky enough to see it live – I think Danny Baker, who’s usually right about pretty much everything in my book, has so far summed it up best in his post-episode tweet – “Stupendous, duplicitous, crazed and unnerving. Nothing to touch the creators of this magic. Nothing. Nothing. No one.”
That pretty much hits the nail on the head for me…
A longer and hopefully more coherent review and thoughts will follow in days to come, but sometimes when you see something special you want to review it and quick. Now? Now I’m going to go and read some Twitter…